Friday, 6 June 2014

Billy Bragg: The Video Game Hero

It feels like I've been building this game for months but I discovered today that tomorrow will mark eleven weeks. As far as development times go, that’s nothing. For me, it’s been eleven hard weeks of learning something entirely new and working long long nights. And it does, finally, feel like I’m nearing the end.

The past few days has been about adding a few aesthetic effects and balancing levels so challenges are neither too easy nor impossibly hard. Last night, I had one of my most important breakthroughs: I managed to integrate interstitial advertising into the game. It’s a horrible business, inserting these ugly ads into something you work so hard to get looking good but it’s the ugly reality of this business. Nobody is willing to pay for anything and advertising is the only way I’ll ever make any money from this terribly doomed project.

I’m also tidying up some of my animations, which look okay, though sometimes just plain rough. A better example of my animations (and, yes, this is the ‘good’ stuff!) is my Billy Bragg character (above), who features as one of the game’s heroes or antagonists, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall. The game, as I think I’ve mentioned, is broadly satirical and Bragg acts as a nemesis to the game’s chief protagonist along with other celebs and politicos ranging from Stewart Lee to the Mayor of London.

I’m posting this Bragg video today because I like to prove that I’m not idle and because it links conveniently into a brief ramble about the most depressing thing I’ve heard in a long time.

Billy Bragg has confessed (perhaps tongue in angora bearded cheek) that ‘the internet has changed my songwriting by taking up all the time I used to spend writing songs’. He was talking on the today’s excellent Guardian feature, ‘Seven Digital Deadly Sins’, where he proceed to suggest that he spends most of his days watching a variety of people falling down holes.

I’m sure Bragg was playing up to the camera. At least, I hope to hell he was playing up to the camera. If not, then I’ll take my ticket now and catch the next bus off this lousy planet.

If the dimternet has tamed Bragg then what hope the rest of us? Had George Orwell been around today, would he be spending his time watching ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ (a video, I’m happy to say, that I’ve never seen) rather than writing ‘1984’? Or would he, as I’d hope, be among the few of us who are genuinely trying to cut ourselves off from the online world or, at least, merely use the medium without it robbing us of our lives and souls. I’ve written before that social media is the soma of this generation and nothing has changed to make me question that. I don’t think I’m simply being reactionary to say that we are losing strength in our mental limbs and we must do everything in our power to retain focus on the things that matter. Social media boasts about ‘ease’ and ‘speed’ and its integration into our lives but I fail to see how that’s a good thing. It’s why I find Bragg’s confession so depressing. He’s spent his life talking about activism yet it’s left to Bill Bailey’s contribution to the debate to point out how political engagement has changed with social media. Politics has become a trivial and, frankly, no so interesting meme in a greater world of hamster videos and fat people falling over.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the power of a good one liner, wit squeezed into 140 characters, but there is also a place for length, pace, argument, and complexity. In a separate piece yesterday, Will Self (who also, incidentally appears as one of the 'good guys' in my game), recommended books for teenagers based on their length. He’s right, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing. Explore the places of difficulty in your life. It’s where you always discover the most fascinating revelations.

I suppose I’m as much a victim of this change as anybody. Friends shake their heads slowly, clearly thinking I’m a fool because I don’t get involved in social media. I’ve certainly made decisions I’ve regretted. I always thought my book by Stan Madeley (the UK’s top Richard Madeley lookalike ) would have been more popular than it was. The fact I didn’t engage in social media and publicity was plain stupidity on my behalf. Yet I’m stubborn when it comes to my convictions. Bragg is probably right when he concludes by saying that ‘everybody wants to be famous, nobody wants to be scrutinised’. That’s the world where people are more interested in celebrities for their celebrity rather than anything they actually do.

I genuinely can’t see the attraction of fame. Scrutiny sounds far more interesting. I’d rather be disliked by a few than loved by millions. I’d rather be Will Self than Katie Perry, Billy Bragg rather than Stephen Fry. Social media is made for the latter, which makes it sad when I see it embraced by the former.

This is a ramble but I’m tired and I suppose it’s when I’m tired that I can see that my Android game is only going to be another expression of my stubborn unwillingness to join the throng. Only I could make a game that skips merrily past the mainstream and attempt to attract a very small minority. I only hope just a few people will smile and appreciate that I’ve tried something a little different. I’m hopeful, for example, that it will be the only video game featuring Billy Bragg.

Naturally, he won’t be singing but, so far, neither will I. The game looks pretty good but it still lacks music. I’m still attempting to finish recording my closing satirical song, though getting a quality track is killing me. I’ve fingerpicked a pretty good acoustic guitar pattern and even if my £12 USB microphone isn’t exactly studio quality, it’s not entirely bad. My singing remains the problem. I can’t decide if it’s a problem of my accent (I sound terribly northern) or simply a weak voice. I’ve been recording multiple versions in different registers so I can stack my vocals. Oddly, I think I probably sound less bad singing as a group than I do singing alone but I’m finding it difficult to mix them into anything reasonably listenable. Ideally, I’d like to just record myself singing over the guitar but one mike and a bad voice don’t make for a good combination.

But that’s another ramble for another day and I must go and make this blog post available on social media. [sarcasm=true; walks_off = “chuckling maliciously”;]

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